Italy feels that Europe is ignoring its calls for help with the crush of incoming migrants reaching the island of Lampedusa. Some 19,000 have arrived since the start of this year, mostly from Tunisia. The islanders are furious with their government’s response, summing it up as inadequate. Italy says it can not cope alone.
In Rome, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini’s first plea that other European countries pitch in urgently came at the end of February. His latest pronouncement on the matter was: “Europe has been absolutely inactive.” He says there has to be a political commitment.
A decade-old European Union directive provides for temporary protection for displaced persons from non-EU countries who can not go home; it also talks about “measures promoting a balance of effort between” EU Member States.
France has clamped down on migrants crossing the border at Ventimiglia, in northern Italy. Police have been sending any they find back across the border. Frattini said they “are setting up a wall.”
EU law says the country where a migrant first arrives must process any requests for entry.
Last year, France was the first choice for asylum seekers, followed by Germany. Those two countries together got more than 100,000 applicants. Italy was ninth on the list, with some 10,000 applications for asylum. More than 250,000 people were granted asylum in the EU last year. Brussels estimates there are far more displaced people than that in camps in the troubled North Africa region.
A European Commission spokesman explained the financial solidarity available: “There is 6.9 million available this year, and then as part of the return fund there is also EU co-financing, up to 75 percent.”
Tunisia, however, has no repatriation accord with the EU.
The European external borders control agency FRONTEX is deployed until August to help Italy, with Dutch and Portuguese assistance, mustering two vessels, several aircraft and a score of staff on land.